listening to the words…then listening to the context…
July 16, 2008 § 1 Comment
That’s what Chris Rock said….he said, in his skit at the 2008 ESSENCE Music Festival, that sometimes people fight over words and forget to listen to the context. When I first heard him say that, I thought that it was very true and something that I should try to do more often (pay attention to the context that is there).
However, when I first saw the July 21 New Yorker cover, I first dropped my jaw, then I shook my head, and then much later on, I thought of Chris Rock.
But before I jump ahead of myself, let’s go through the sequence of my reactions to the image, shall we?
I could not for the life of me understand why the Obamas cannot catch a break from these foolish lies (which is why my jaw dropped) — until I remembered that they are deep within the mud swamp of politics and if John Kerry who received a Purple Heart can be made into a swiftboater, than the ridiculous lies will always exist. However, the fact that ridiculous lies can manifest into something much larger than themselves is exactly what had me shaking my head. The artist, Barry Blitt, of this cover agrees with me that the lies about the Obamas are preposterous and the publication The New Yorker has been defending its cover by saying that readers of The New Yorker would understand the satire of this imagery. However, all I could think about is the slew of people who do NOT read The New Yorker ever and will only see this cover. Now there will be some who will believe that Senator Obama is a Muslim and is anti-American and that Michelle Obama is really a Black Panther in disguise and is just waiting to take out all of the “evil whiteys” in America. These people cannot be swayed and that is fine. HOWEVER, there a LOT of people who, believe it or not, are still on the fence and may have had some doubts about the Obamas possibly in regards to these lies. I know that when I voted for John Kerry, I voted for him because he was not George Bush but I was not sold on Kerry as the next President of the United States. Point and scream at me for not being more involved in my vote, but I was not very politically cognizant back then. I make this point because I know that I was affected by the “swiftboating” that John Kerry had supposedly been a part of and later found out (luckily before November) that he had a Purple Heart. Now imagine if I had not found out about his service to his country — I might just have voted for a guy who run from serving from his country but is now claiming to have the balls to defend it from behind a desk in the Oval Office. I just might have…I wonder who that guy might be? LOL…Anyway, I understand that the media is its own entity and does not have to do anything to help anyone’s particular campaign — however, if you put something such as the above image out into the world, well, you had better have some better answers than just that your “readership is sophisticated enough to get the joke“!
That response would be fine if it was maybe 20 years ago and the internet was not as big and powerful as it is right now…at this point, there is probably a huge number of individuals who have seen this image, have now digested it into their pysches and have possibly formed concepts of the Obamas just off of this cover which are entirely untrue.
Now, some may say, well people will believe what they want no matter what, or that it is not the responsibility of the media to defend or protect presidential candidates, or even that the huge response from all sides towards this cover proves that it is a satire — and in my thinking all of these possibilities, I then thought of Chris Rock. I decided to give this “context” thing a try….
And I thought about the artist Barry Blitt and his collection of work that is controversial at times, and I wondered if the The New Yorker cover seen in the context of Blitt’s other work softens the shock value of his image. Hmm…
I thought of one of my friends and his perspective of the cover and his discussion of other controversial imagery such as the Esquire covers by George Lois, one specifically with Muhammad Ali, and the installations done by Yazmany Arbodela
….and then viewing this latest The New Yorker cover in the context of this other controversial and provocative material — and Barry Blitts is not really doing anything harmful here , at least not in this context. Right?
As I thought about these various contexts, I realized that this imagery could be justified and that maybe it is not very laughable satire right now but that it will be, in a couple of months. Or that maybe the media truly should and can stand on its own, so it does not have to tiptoe around anyone and should be free to portray itself and those in the public eye however it so pleases.
But then I remembered all of the people who are going to believe all of the untruths, who are not readers of The New Yorker, who ‘are not sophisticated enough’ to understand the joke and the fact that both the Obama and McCain camps have strongly disapproved of this imagery — and I remembered that I should not just pay attention to context in of itself but the context of this publication during this time.
You see, the fact of the matter is that the context in which this cover is bursting onto the scene is one in which:
1. The persons portrayed in the imagery are not willing participants of said satire, as we see with the Esquire cover of Muhammad Ali and are in fact opposed to the “satire”
2. This publication has a circulation of about 1.06 million readers
3. This publication is being published during a time in history in which people are blogging about news before it has even been reported by the standard news media
4. The imagery was not restricted to only those who would solicit it as has been done with the assassination installations — these installations are IN New York City and I have never heard of them until my friend told me about them. They have not been shown to the public on the same scale as The New Yorker
5. The imagery itself are not all exaggerated at all, most definitely not in an obvious manner that would have anyone understanding that this work is to point at the ridiculousness of these lies. In fact, his work appears to have been illustrated by someone who believes these lies and wanted a creative manner in which to capture all of the untruths.
After looking closely at the context within which this July 21, 2008 The New Yorker cover exists, I believe that not only does the imagery miss the mark when it comes to effective satire but The New Yorker publication completely misses the mark by assuming that only its readers would perceive this image. NO! As a publication that also operates online, those at The New Yorker should have understood that this cover would cause controversy, would have spread across the Internet given the viral power of the Internet, and should have either tempered the image, gotten rid of the image, or just provided the image within the publication and chosen another image for the cover. In that manner, their readers would likely be the majority of people who would see the image and the publication would be able to provide a small explanation from the artist in regards to the imagery.
That would have been the sophisticated and intelligent manner in which The New Yorker could have handled this foolishness instead of just putting it out there for mass consumption and then claiming it is was only for a niche audience.
However, in this context, The New Yorker and its artist Barry Blitt fail. Miserably.